Category Archives: Parenting

Kids today – What are we letting happen?

I work with people of all ages, but primarily I specialize in working with teens.  Recently I have started getting many referrals for children and teens being bullied.  The bullying itself is not a surprise, as bullying has become increasingly easy with newer technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc.  A growing concern I have is the sexual bullying that is growing increasingly abundant, and increasingly tolerated.

One of the kids I work with complained that he, along with many of the other larger kids in the school are being repeatedly harassed by other boys.  The other boys are coming up behind the kids, grabbing their “man-breasts”, shaking them and making humping gestures.  These same actions are being repeated to girls in the schools as well.  I have confirmed that this is occurring at several schools, and not just in the Austin area.

When I told a friend about this I was asked about the difference between deviant behavior and “kids being kids”.  Five years ago this would have been deviant behavior, but today there is a question.  I find this concerning. 

Several years ago in Colorado a 7 year old boy was required to register as a sex offender after peaking under a bathroom stall.  Now, admittedly, I only have collateral information, but this was the talk of the Sex Offender Therapist world for a while as the concept of required registration was going through legislation.    A couple of years ago a child, doing what children do, was required to register as an offender, name and picture on the internet.  The scuttle-butt was that the registration was for life, based on Colorado law.  That is completely unconfirmed. 

Today though, it is accepted for boys to walk up behind other boys, and girls, grab their chest, wiggle it up and down and make lewd gestures and jokes.  Protesting or complaining leads to comments such as “awww…can’t take a joke!” along with other demeaning and degrading comments, as well as rejection from the social group. On other words, social suicide. 

Either the adults in the school are completely un-aware or ignoring the behavior.  Can you imagine if one of your co-workers came up behind you and grabbed your breasts, jiggling them and making lewd comments?  This would be grounds for termination, legal charges, etc.  If you are an overweight man, think about having a friend do this to you regularly.  Would they stay friends for long?   Would they stay standing for long? 

What is the difference between boys being boys, and the progression of sexual harassment to concerning levels?  I know that I sound alarmist, but what  happens when line after line is crossed?  When violation of personal space and boundaries become common-place and the repercussions for stopping them can be severe.  What happens when the boundaries are pushed even further and it is considered “kids being kids”?

The rules for addressing this are the same as the rules for addressing bullies:

  • Be assertive.  Remember to teach the difference between
    assertive and aggressive, but teach the need to stand up for one’s self.
  • Talk with others.  Talk with parents, teachers, counselors
    etc.  Remember that adults are supposed to help, and if one person
    doesn’t help keep asking others.
  • Don’t walk alone.  Bullies don’t often want to confront a group, that makes it more difficult to dis-empower.
  • Agree
    with the bully.  This often confuses the bully long enough to make a
    graceful get-away. “Yup, I sure am a dork!   Guess I’ll just have to
  • Don’t react.  Bullies want a reaction. That is the entire
    reason to bully, is to make the other person feel powerless.  If the
    desired reaction is not given, eventually the bully will move on to
    easier meat.
  • Walk away.  It isn’t running away, it is hard to bully someone’s back.
  • Use
    humor.  Having humorous comments (humorous, not challenging or
    sarcastic,  We are looking to disarm, not create a fight or power –
    play!) ready is often easier than coming up with something when stressed
    and in the moment. 
  • And remembering that the power is in you. 
    We create our own reality, and I don’t have to listen to the reality of
    the bully. If the bully teases me because I get poor grades, I don’t
    have to let what they say hit me inside.  I can allow myself to stay
    strong even with their comments. 

Encourage your children to tell the other kids to stop it.  Then the rest of the advice applies to stopping the bullying.  If the other child does not stop after the first request, make very sure that the administration at the school is aware of the problem, and be willing to bring in legal charges if necessary.  Do we ever want a time when stop doesn’t mean stop?

This is not a case of “boys being boys”.  This is bullying, straight and simple, and this is having serious effect on kids self esteem.  Encourage your kids to talk about this, and make sure you are helping.  

Tough Love Parenting

The universe is a rough place.  We want to protect our kids from that as long as we can.  But are we doing them a disservice?  Are we creating generations of kids that walk out in to the world not knowing the steps they need to take, the work they need to do to be successful, to protect themselves, or to keep from run-ins with the law?

We want to encourage our kids self esteem, so when they loose we don’t want them to feel bad.  We protect them from that by giving them awards anyway.  Our kids scream in public and because we don’t want to be seen as bad parents we give them what they want.  We don’t want our kids to be in trouble with the law, so we cover up their misdeeds.  What do we teach our kids?  I don’t have to strive to be better because I get rewards anyway, all I have to do is throw a tantrum and I get what I want (have you seen a 16 year old throw a tantrum?  Have you seen a 40 year old throw a tantrum? It isn’t especially pretty), and I learn there are no consequences for my actions, or the consequences aren’t that big of a deal. 

How can you teach real life consequences without letting the world run over your kids?  Run them down and destroy them?  Where’s the balance?

My first recommendation is to not reward our kids for failure.  Don’t degrade them by any means (“If you work harder you would win” comes across as “Dear God why do you suck so much?”), but don’t reward failure either.  Give constructive advice and criticism, at the right time.  “Do you want to learn how to throw that curve ball, for next time?”.  Don’t reward C’s.  The world is competitive, and kids need to learn to be able to survive and know that failure is not rewarded. 

Do not protect kids from consequences.  I understand that have a legal record is not what any of us want for our kids.  What it does is sets your kids up to expect you to rescue them every time they are in trouble.  It is possible to be nurturing while allowing consequences to run their course.   Don’t reward behaviors such as tantrums by giving kids what they want.  Learn to use Extinction and punishment appropriately.

An important piece of information is being able to be nurturing while using consequences.  Punishments don’t have to come from a place of anger, and should always fit the crime.  If I keep throwing my phone down and breaking it, I don’t get a new phone.  If I break someone’s window throwing stones, I need to work (around the house, mowing the lawn, giving my allowance, etc) to pay for the window (I also get grounded from whatever or whoever I was with when I broke the window).  If my grades are suffering I loose my phone until my grades get better.  I don’t get my phone taken away from me because I curse at you. I don’t get the school dance taken away because I broke my phone on purpose.    As my parent, you don’t have to be an ass to implement these consequences (though as your kid I will think you are said ass, no matter what). 

I think one of my best examples of a punishment NOT fitting the crime was when a parent beat (I consider having mom hold the 14 year old kid by the ankles so you can use a belt to hit your kid while you hold her down, beating) his 14 year old step-child for refusing to wear a jacket. His reasoning was that she would get sick and not be able to swim on her team.  My logic was that being cold with the possibility of getting sick and not being able to swim on the team was the punishment.   That is not even close to what I am speaking of when I say to make sure kids have consequences for their actions. 

I see the consequences of the lack of these things every day.  I saw them in the newest employees at my last job before I struck out on my own were self-indulgent and entitled, with little care for consequences. The didn’t work well in teams and did not take feedback well.  I see the consequences in the teens that go in to the treatment centers and some of those that I work with in private practice.  Often by the time they come to me they expect that their parents will bow to their expectations of care-taking, as it has happened all of their life. Now that little Johnny is16 and out of control, the parents don’t know what to do.  Johnny’s run-ins with the law have been covered up until now, but now he has done so much that mom and dad can’t cover it up.  The problem now is that the legal system doesn’t feel it is necessary to help because it is Johnny’s first adjudication.  This leaves private pay therapy (which often doesn’t work, the kiddo doesn’t feel as though there is anything wrong an he is wondering why his parent’s are being so cruel and not helping like they should) and residential treatment, which also has little effect and sometimes actually can make things worse. 

Tough love parenting can be harsh on parents.  Especially as we want to nurture and protect our kids from the big bad world.  The big bad world will always be present, and there is a nurturing way to teach children how to navigate through it in a healthy and productive way.  A wonderful program out there is called Discipline Through Love and Logic.  I will admit that 9 years ago when I was introduced to this program through a workplace my first thought was “What is this foofoo b*ll-shi*t?”  But the program has a great deal of merit and teaches how to implement the above concepts in a way that won’t make you go gray at a young age.   

The bully next door

School society is now more dangerous than ever.  The movie Mean Girls was cute and funny, but it was adopted from the book Queen Bees and Wannabe’s about cliques in school and how they are effecting out daughters.  Peer pressure and bullying is not new and does not go away when high school is over.  But with the internet and new and effective ways to ostracize peer pressure is more effective and damaging than ever.  The lessons learned and pushed on our kids in school are lasting, just as our lessons learned from our families are lasting. both boys and girls live in a jungle of expectations in school and society that they must navigate to survive. knowing and understanding the perils that our children face in schools is important.

Bullying continues to be a large part of life.  We as people are very social, and as part of society one of the things we do is find people who are similar to us.  That at times means keeping people who are NOT like us out, which can escalate to intentionally ostracizing  and hurting those that don’t belong within our groups. 

What is bullying?

  • Persistent unwanted behavior
  • Ongoing incorrect criticism
  • Nit-picking
  • Fault Finding
  • Isolation and exclusion (keeping someone from interacting with the group or engage in activities)
  • Treating someone bad because they are different

What is Cyber Bullying?

  • Sending mean, vulgar or threatening messages or images
  • posting sensitive or private information about another person
  • Pretending to be another person to make that person look bad
  • Excluding someone from an online group.  

One of the things we have discovered about bullying is that the bully is not always the big kid with low self esteem that picks because he is picked upon.  Often a bully is popular and well liked, even by teachers. The bully has a strong sense of self and a belief in his or her right to bully At times the people surrounding the bully are afraid that if they DON’T support the bully, they will be bullied themselves.  Teachers often have a hard time disciplining the popular bully as The bully often feels entitled to her behavior, and unwilling to change it.  She can then turn her bullying behavior on the teacher, involving the friends and the other people in the class.  Because it is expected that the teacher run the classroom appropriatly (or other teachers either don’t believe the bullied teacher, or don’t want to have the same problems themselves) little help is given to restore order. 

Unfortunately parents either are oblivious to the bullying that their child is doing, directly condones it, or participates in it.  In the case of Lori Drew  the parent actually created a MySpace page and tormented a 13 year old, ending with the message “The world would be a better place without you”.  Parents can be very fierce in protecting and supporting their children, and mistakenly believe that that includes from their childrens peers that could be seen as competition.

What can kids do when they are bullied? 

  • Be assertive.  Remember to teach the difference between assertive and aggressive, but teach the need to stand up for one’s self.
  • Talk with others.  Talk with parents, teachers, counselors etc.  Remember that adults are supposed to help,
    and if one person doesn’t help keep asking others.
  • Don’t walk alone.  Bullies don’t often want to confront a group, that makes it more difficult to dis-empower.
  • Agree with the bully.  This often confuses the bully long enough to make a graceful get-away. “Yup, I sure am a dork!   Guess I’ll just have to deal”
  • Don’t react.  Bullies want a reaction. That is the entire reason to bully, is to make the other person feel powerless.  If the desired reaction is not given, eventually the bully will move on to easier meat.
  • Walk away.  It isn’t running away, it is hard to bully someone’s back.
  • Use humor.  Having humorous comments (humorous, not challenging or sarcastic,  We are looking to disarm, not create a fight or power – play!) ready is often easier than coming up with something when stressed and in the moment. 
  • And remembering that the power is in you.  We create our own reality, and I don’t have to listen to the reality of the bully. If the bully teases me because I get poor grades, I don’t have to let what they say hit me inside.  I can allow myself to stay strong even with their comments. 

The law is catching up to cyber-bullying.  Giving out personal information, sending threatening or vulgar messages through text, and pretending to be someone online is illegal.  Sending harassing comments such as “You Suck!” as far as I know is not illegal, but the law is slowly catching up to technology.  It is important to monitor computer usage of children and teens.  Make sure you know of their MySpace, Facebook, and twitter accounts and keep an eye on them.  The computer should be in a localized room, and not in kids rooms.  This is not a violation of privacy.  If someone complains that your child is cyber-bullying, take the complaint seriously as it can lead to legal charges, and some cases have actually ended in the suicide of the bullied.

Bullying  continues to be a serious problem.  Work with your kids to be able to defend themselves in healthy ways against bullying.  Work to keep from teaching the right to exclude by cruelty.  There are several sites that assist with parents and children on the internet, such as Stop Bullying Now,, and Stop Cyber bullying.  Listen if someone tells you that your child is a bully,  Ask for help as depending on the reason for the bullying effects the interventions. 

Drugs today

I will admit that I was not present during the 60’s and cannot knowledgably speak about the culture of drugs at that time.  I do know there was more experimentation at that time than ever before.  I do know that soldiers came back from Vietnam addicted to heroine and that the culture surrounding drugs changed at that time.  I witnessed cocaine boom of the 80’s and the transition toward crack that followed.  I have worked professionally with lawyers who’s addiction to cocaine was so bad they would “snort up” in the courtroom in front of the judge.  I know that the Mexican kids at my (over 20 years ago) high school were smoking marijuana and the rich white kids were snorting cocaine and everyone was drinking alcohol.

With all this, I find that parents have a hard time understanding drug use today.  The culture surrounding drug use is closely tied with that surrounding sex, but that will be in another entry. 

Parents need to know the current attitudes toward drugs.   This discussion is related to trends I have seen in my work with teens both in residential and outpatient treatment in the last 7 years.  I have worked to find research that backs up this information, but so far research regarding current trends and attitudes of adolescents toward drug use had been hard to find, and no more recent than 2001. These trends relate to a relatively broad population, at least in my experience. 

Marijuana use in Jr High and high School is a great deal more prevalent than it used to be in the past.  Users are not as ostracized as in the past, and it is often used as a party drug. It along with alcohol, Marijuana use is seen as very casual.  The kids I see regularly tend to have developed an emotional addiction, but this is often not the case.  In the mind of many teens, it isn’t a party if there isn’t marijuana or alcohol.  I have actually worked with kids that ran a very profitable “business” supplying alcohol to their peers and then driving providing a “designated driver” cab service.  There is a possibility that if your kid comes home smelling like marijuana, he or she was just present at a party and not using.

Xanax, or “handlebars” is another commonly used drug, and easily accessible, generally through parents prescriptions.  It isn’t as commonly used as Marijuana or Alcohol. Unfortunately the use is often mixed with one or the other, which of course can be deadly.  For this reason, monitor your prescriptions.  This also includes other prescription pain killers

The most recent information I have on Estacy is from 2001 from Join Together, stating that the trends for the drug, including the harmful effects, were similar to the crack-cocaine epidemic of the 80’s.  Not only is it highly addictive, but because of its “love” effect (releasing a great deal of serotonin in the brain, giving that “high, in love” feeling) leading to indiscriminant sexual acts.  For a period in the early 2000’s it was commonly used, especially at raves.  I have not in my experience had as many clients discussing it’s use as much, but it still pops up out there.  Part of its addictive nature is the euphoric feeling it induces.  While it is not AS common as it used to be 9 years ago, that does not mean that it is not prevalent.  It also often is mixed (as well as cocaine and meth can be) with some not so nice substances that can be deadly. 

Meth is fairly unknown amongst the populations I work with.  It was seen with scorn and derision.  Even though the kids I worked with have not used it, it is highly used here in the States, and extremely addictive.  Use of prescription medications such as Adderall and Ritalin to get “high” is also a common problem. With the invent of Vivance (a Ritalin medication that cannot taken other than orally, it has an extra electron that keeps the medication from being effective until broken off by the stomach acid) it is more difficult to abuse this medication, bit it still happens.  Again, monitor all use of prescription medications that have the potential for abuse. 

Understanding the culture today toward drug use is very important. Parents are finding that their kids are using marijuana on a regular basis at parties.  You don’t have to condone the drug use, but understanding how these drugs are used in adolescent society may keep you from “blowing a gasket” when you find out your teen IS using.  Kids won’t understand your fear and will resent it quickly, leading to additional difficulty with getting them to stop.  Be calm and cool, remember that lecturing is not effective (even I tune out after the first 30 seconds or so, and I’m an adult).  Use the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid!), remind them that it is illegal, and then give a punishment.  It’s that easy.  If you need to say something, I think Chef in South Park said it well when he said “There is a time and a place for everything, and it’s called college.”

Video Games and Development

Video games have been found to have definitive effects on the development of our children.  From the ages of 3-ish to
12-ish (or a period better known as latency)
children are virtual information sponges, and learn, learn, learn from whatever
they are able to including television and video games.  Studies are showing that the use of video games is having an effect on our children.  It effects the way they learn, their visual and spacial reasoning, their social skill, health, and their violence levels. 

For the positive aspects of video games, the use of games is shown to increase a children’s ability to quickly process visual information and make decisions.  Surgeons who are good at video games are better at certain surgeries.  Video games are used to train pilots in the military, among many other uses. Children who use video games are better able to multi-task than previous generations. 

The detrimental effect of video games also needs to be taken in to consideration.  Grand Theft Auto has a section in which you find a
hooker; sleep with her, pay her, leave, and then assault / kill her and steal
your money back.  I don’t know that I agree that this is entertainment in
anyway, but it is not appropriate for any age child still emotionally and sexually developing.  Violence permeates our society, in our movies, video games and television.  This can lead to a desensitization toward violence, and studies have shown that children using violent video games over time display an increase in violence.  Over-use of any video game also effects social skills, a child’s ability to read and use imagination skills, and weight.

Do you want your 11 year old boy, even subconsciously, learning that
prostitution and assault are acceptable?  While there is a difference between
Mortal Combat and Grand Theft Auto as the first is blatantly unrealistic and
our children learn  (hopefully) to tell fiction from reality, violent games still have the potential to teach younger children that violence is the way to solve conflict.  
Games such as Halo and other potential first-person shooter games can be used as good family games for pre-teens, playing as a team teaching teamwork and cooperation. Independent use though continues that desensitization of violence.  The use of
video games should, like every other technology, be monitored, used as a family
at times, and explained to younger kids so they are able to use them
responsibly as older adolescents and adult

Tips for Parents
Parents can help their children enjoy these games and avoid problems by:

  • Checking the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESR ratings to learn about the game’s content. 
  • Selecting appropriate games—both in content and level of development. Go to for age specific game recommendations by both parents and kids.
  • Playing video games with their children to experience the game’s content.
  • Setting clear rules about game content and playing time, both in and outside of your home.
  • Strongly warning children about potential serious dangers of Internet contacts and relationships while playing games online.
  • Talking with other parents about your family’s video game rules.
  • Remembering that you are a role model for your children – including video games you play as an adult.
  • Setting time limits on game play, just as you would television usage.
  • Use game play as an incentive for grades and homework completion.  If the grades are bad, the game system gets put away.

Let’s talk about sex, baby!

Lets face it, “sex” is a dirty word.  It for such an enjoyable act, we surround it with so much shame. If you want to shock a group of kids that aren’t
listening to you, mutter the word “masturbation” and they are all
yours, if only for a moment because even the thought of touching
yourself in a pleasurable fashion is taboo in our culture, and teens
are all about things that are taboo.  But because of the shame and lack
of comfort surrounding the concept we often don’t speak with our
children let alone our teens about the subject.
According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s
2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey — an annual questionnaire given in
high schools around the state — 64 percent of teens have had
intercourse by the time they graduate from high school, and many more
engage in a range of other sexual activities, but only 50 percent of
students say their parents have ever talked to them about sex (Boston Globe).
  When I first became a therapist working with juvenile sex offenders I had to overcome the stigma myself, and it was difficult. Now I can talk about masturbation, oral sex, penis’s and vagina’s with the best of them, but because of how easily it rolls across my tongue I at times forget how others feel about the words.  They cause consternation at best.  If we can’t even talk about the topic of sexual fantasies with our partner how can we address the issue of sexuality with our kids? 

We are sexual beings.  We are one of very few (three that I can think of) species that have sex for pleasure in addition to reproduction.  Infants find very early that touching themselves feels good, children play doctor, until they learn better they experiment with themselves in public, and then as puberty starts the experimentation expands and grows.  Without guidance from someone with more knowledge, the teen is left to explore this world on his or her own, or with the help of their oh-so-knowledgeable peers.  Do you remember the awe inspiring advice your peers gave you?  Were you even able to talk about the subject in a serious manner with them?

We want our children to have a healthy sexuality, but without talking to them about it how do we accomplish this?    Because of the stigma that is attached to this act (that we all do) we often hold our tongue instead instead of taking the risk of feeling shamed or embarrassed ourselves.

The first step starts with kids.  We need to avoid the concept of “good touch / bad touch” as that concept changes in to adulthood, and we don’t need a bunch of adults running around thinking they can’t enjoy sex because it is “bad touch”.  As you think I am an extremist, remember that attitudes we learn as kids permeate our adult lives, and the concept of “you can take the girl out of the bible belt, but you can’t take the bible belt out of the girl”.  Once an idea gets stuck in our heads as kids we have to actively work to get it out as adults.  We want to teach them instead that it is OK to say “NO” when we don’t like what someone is doing, that it is OK to tell an adult.  We want to explain what sex and sexuality is when asked instead of shaming the child for a natural question.  There are some wonderful books out there that can help do this for you so you don’t feel like you have to have all the answers. One book easily available on Amazon is How to Talk to Your Child About Sex: It’s Best to Start Early, but It’s Never Too Late — A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents.  There are also several DVD’s and picture books to be able to be interactive with your child that help in this process.

Addressing this concept with teens is much more difficult.  They have already been exposed to the shaming culture of sex and sexuality, and don’t want to talk about something that embarrasses them with their parents.  One of my favorite discussions to have is the discussion of healthy sexuality.  The discussion I have revolves around the acronym CREST: Consent, Respect, Equality, Safety and Trust.  Boys and girls they are engaged depending on the group it is at times the only topic I can get them to participate in discussing, once they get past the fact that they are talking with their therapist about sex (“Let’s all say it together, Penis, Penis Penis, Vagina, Vagina, Vagina”).   While they may not want to address the topic with their parents, kids do want to talk about sex.  They have questions and want answers from people who actually know what they are talking about, but will go to their friends if they have to.  Where can you go to find answers?   There are several resources that are helpful.  Part of the problem with talking with kids about sex is our own lack of comfort.  Our own sense of shame attached to enjoying such a taboo subject is projected to our discussion.  We have to get over this.  We can’t hide behind our religion, our fear, or our schedule.  Kids are learning about sex.  Teaching them safe healthy habits can only come from us.


Divorce with children

Unfortunately we are divorcing each other at an amazing rate.  Though lately the saying “more marriages end in divorce” seems to not be holding up (the divorce rate has fallen in the last 2 years), there are still a good deal of families that are splitting up.    I was blessed that my divorce was “easy” with no bitterness or anger (notice I did not say painless) and my ex-husband and I maintain an easy friendship.  I work with clients and have friends who are not so lucky.

Divorce on its own is traumatic.  Even a divorce as “easy” as mine was still is a trauma.  There are always hurts, feelings of abandonment, loss, and at times betrayal.  Adding children to this mixture adds another layer of uncertainty, frustration, hurt and fear.  Even the best people are able to become monsters around their ex-partner at this time of in-stability. Unfortunately often the children are thrown in to the mix and the trauma can be devastating.

A divorce is traumatic to a child.  Children are at a stage in which they are learning if the world is to be trusted, and part of that is based on the stability of their family.  If the parents are stable and display consistency children learn that the world is stable and consistent and approach life with optimism.  If parents display instability they learn to fear the world and tend to be more pessimistic.  Realize, these are generalizations and do not apply in all cases, but overall these themes tend to play out. Divorce adds a new mix to the concept of instability.  gives a great deal of information on this topic, but generally children generally jump to the following questions :

·  What if they both leave me?
  What is it that I did wrong?

  Did I cause the divorce?

·  Now what’s going to happen to me?

Divorce is painful.  It is a severe trauma that strongly affects both parties in the divorce.  Unfortunately, divorce with children is like being sick with children.  The kids don’t care that you are hurting,  or don’t feel well, that you are angry and feel abandoned.  And it is not their responsibility to be your support through this trauma.  Let me repeat that, as it is amazingly important. Your children are not supports for your divorce!  Just as if you are sick, you need to to continue to be strong, stable, caring and loving.  The worst case scenario unfortunately is often the norm today.  Children are placed in the middle, asked to pick sides and used as leverage in the fight against the other person.  This has drastic results that are life long.

Basic rules to interacting with your children in relationship to your divorce:

Do not burden them with information about reasons for the split.  Children will want to know.  Children are naturally inquisitive, and they generally feel the same fear, powerlessness and panic that you feel and  they know that knowledge is power.  The problem  is that in the middle of the painful emotions we are unable to be unbiased and we give information based on our own perceptions.  I know through my divorce I actually placed more blame on myself than my ex, but often people do the opposite forgetting that it takes two to tango.  Children can feel responsible for getting the parents back together, they can be placed in a parent role for their parents, and take on more than necessary.  It also puts them in a position to pick sides. When they want to know, switch to a nurturing role.  “That’s not stuff you need to worry about, what you need to know is that Daddy / Mommy and I love you, will always love you, and will always be here for you”.

Do not ask them to pick sides.  In doing this you will imply that they will loose your love if they don’t pick you.  If both parents do this it will cause panic.  Children still think in fight or flight, survival and death. This doesn’t make sense to us as adults, but they are still very primitive in their emotions without the ability to rationalize.  There is a distinct fear that “If I don’t pick mom, she won’t love me, she will leave me, and I cannot survive without her.”  This is very subconscious, and they probably can’t verbalize these fears. We all want validation that we are good people and in divorce we want to know that the reason we are being rejected is because of the faults of the other instead of our own.  Using our children for our own validation and to resolve our feelings of loss or fears of being unloved, or just vilifying our past partner is not OK. It creates feelings of abandonment and panic and can lead to behavioral problems, drug use, school difficulties, anxiety and depression.


Do not manipulate the children emotionally. This technically falls under trying to make them pick sides but deserves its own section.  Telling kiddo that you can’t make the rent because daddy divorced you causes confusion and hurt.  Even if this is the case, kiddo doesn’t need to know until they are older.  The kids are struggling to see where they are going to be safe in the world.  What they need from both of you is knowledge that the world won’t end, that they will still be loved even with the divorce.  Manipulating them in an effort to sway them away from the other parent, or get them to try to manipulate the other parent creates an unsafe situation and will cause a great deal of anxiety.  It can actually rebound on you, and make the child resentful toward you.  We think kids won’t necessarily see through this behavior, but they aren’t stupid, just young.

Do not fight in front of your children.   If you do find yourself fighting in front of your kids, either work to find a resolution then and there (one of the great disservices we do to our children is we do not teach them how to resolve an argument, we fight in front of them, but we never resolve anything in front of them.) or end the discussion until a time when the kids aren’t present (not sent to their rooms, but not present all together).  It is too easy to drag the children in to the fight, and that will exacerbate all of their fears instead of reassuring them. Sending them to another room does no good, as yelling travels very well through houses.  It will also display that there are weaknesses that kids are amazingly apt at manipulating.

Do not use your children as a tool to manipulate your spouse. This is nothing more than emotional assault both on your children and your ex.  There is no excuse or justification for this.  Unless your ex is a danger to your child there is no reason to limit their access, and using your child as a manipulative tool is nothing less than child abuse.  You are turning your child in to an object to cause pain, while it is not criminal, it should be.  If you can’t tell, I feel rather strongly about this. Don’t buy your child the cell phone your ex told them they can’t have just to piss him/her off.  Don’t manipulate to get more child support just to hurt your ex.  Don’t make it excessively hard to do things like visitation and communication.  These behaviors are childish and unacceptable.  This hurts more than just your ex, it hurts your child and ultimately it hurts you too. Being a mean and spiteful person is  a poison that slowly kills you. But most of all it hurts your children.  They learn unhealthy patterns that they carry through their adult relationships.  Moral?  Do not use your children to get back at your ex.

Don’t tell stories about your ex to your kids.  Children don’t need to know who daddy is supposedly sleeping with or that he didn’t pay his child support on time.  The don’t need to know that mommy is throwing tantrums and not able to pay her bills.  They don’t need to know how horrible mommy is, or how bad her friends are.  This is transferring your frustrations and fears on to your children.  If your ex really is that horrible, let kiddo find that out on their own.

Do nurture, support and reassure your children.  If there is fighting in the home they frequently believe that the fights revolve around them not realizing that their parents are fighting because of their relationship, not them.  If that is the case and all of a sudden mom and dad are splitting, it is natural to believe that you are divorcing because you always fight over the kids.  Even if they are not aware of the conflict (which is relatively rare) they now know that their world is being thrown about and they are probably terrified. They need all of the support and reassurance you can get.  If possible, reassure them together as a team.  They need to know that even though you will not be together anymore  you still love them and you are still a solid team when it comes to parenting them. They need to know that even with the divorce they are safe. 

Do be a united front for your children. As they grow this will be more important than you realize. The one thing you can both still agree on is that your kids are amazing, that you love them, and they come first.  Well, put them first.  You have to put aside all of the anger, hurts and frustrations.You have to put your differences aside when it comes to your kids.  You have to put your differences aside when it comes to your kids!  If you do not the fallout is amazing.  You will see behavior problems as they seek structure and stability.  If you think they split and manipulate you now as a solid couple, wait to see what they can do when they know that you aren’t together in your parenting. Kids will feel unstructured and unsafe.   They will seek out their friends for their support instead of their parents.  They will resort to drug use, eating disorders, stealing among other things to resolve their hurts and frustrations.  It is a loosing battle.They will also turn in to little terrorists, manipulating and scheming to get their way, going to the parent from whom they know they can get want the easiest.  They will play you like a violin and turn in to brats that don’t mind either of you.

Do work to resolve your differences in a healthy manner. Just because you are splitting with your partner does not mean that you have to teach hate to your children.  I will cover how this effects you as a person in greater detail in another post, but even if you feel hurt and hate right now it is important to teach your children how to resolve hurts and frustrations in a healthy way.  This is going to be a difficult time for you.  If you hit a point where you don’t feel like you are in control, leave until you are in control again.   Remember to always think what you are teaching your children with your behavior.   

Being a parent means being responsible.  I know throughout my divorce there were days that just keeping myself going took all the energy I had.  I know that putting that aside that pain and going about with  my daily life was like swimming up a waterfall. I fully understand the hurt and the trauma that this is causing you.  I know first hand the feelings of abandonment, hurt, fear, loss and loneliness. Divorce with children is not the same as divorce without. When you have kids you don’t get sick days, you don’t get hurt days, and you don’t get bad divorce days.  Because you have children you have to put your big-girl / boy panties on and be a parent.  That means putting your child first and your hurts and angers second.  Hopefully in doing this you will be better able to pull yourself through your divorce as you force yourself to work with your partner, resolving your hurts and create a healthier world for you and your children.

Resources :;; 

Childrens books;

Cooperative Parenting 


The internet

The internet (Or interweb as my grandmother called it) is more
and more ingrained in our daily life.  It can be used to watch television, see the weather, get directions, find a phone number and buy a present or clothing, among so many other activities.  Because the internet is so integral in our life it is important that we teach responsible usage to our children.  Sites such as Facebook, an important social networking site used
by young and old alike, connect us.  I myself have a Facebook page and use it to communicate with friends, schedule events, and sadly enough play Farm Ville.   These sites are used also for the not so nice activities of cyber-bullying as
well as social networking and seem to be leading to a decline in basic social
skills.  Minor posts such as “Janie is such a looser and has no
friends” are devastating, and have even caused suicides, though this
bullying is now common place.  The internet takes away the face to face
interaction and poses a degree of anonymity to the hurtful scathing comments, the same as driving cars lead to road rage as we curse the other unknown
driver.  Because children and adolescents are still learning (they are NOT
LITTLE ADULTS!) and are developing things like emotional regulation, impulse
control, and higher thought they don’t think through things like making hurtful
statements, posting pictures of pot leaves, or even posting pictures of smoking
and drinking.  These actions can have long lasting consequences, as
employers often check Facebook and Myspace to cyber-stalk their potential

Add the potential for other cyber-stalking, sex offenders (though
the media does the public a disservice in fear-mongering regarding sex offenders in our
community, offenders are present and some are very far from harmless) are easily
able to utilize social networking sites means of information gathering.  An easy example is a
13 year old girl on a chat room, giving her ASL (Age, Sex, Location) and
possibly a picture.  A not so nice person is now able to determine a
school based on location, use the picture to identify, and…Well, TV and media
give you worst case scenarios to draw from, but the not so worst case aren’t
that great either. And we aren’t even talking about the How To Catch A Predator
moments of the 14 year old girl on a chat site inviting the older man to her home or even to
a public place, where teens can be easily manipulated in to sexual acts.  

The internet is part of our daily lives.  Like anything it is necessary to teach our children how to be responsible users. Notice I said “teach”, which implies interaction and monitoring.  Un-restricted access of the internet for children and younger teens is irresponsible of parents.  Older teens, it is more difficult to monitor.  But isn’t this the case with everything when it comes to older teens?  We hope that the lessons we have imparted previously have taken hold, and we must allow them to find their own way.  But parents can still require access to Facebook and MySpace pages for older teens (though even this is difficult, as one person can have many accounts).  Parents are able to be diligent though and work to maintain the lessons they have  (hopefully) already taught. 

I have barely scratched the surface.  I haven’t touched on internet pornography, gaming, IM’ing and chat rooms among others.  It is important to be up on some of the IM lingo (knowing that your kid is talking to someone who is IFKN – In front of Keyboard Naked is important).  It is important to understand how to look at a computer history to see what sites are being visited, and limiting the time spent playing games.  We teach our children so many things, hopefully responsible internet usage is among them.

Parenting today’s children

With every generation the world changes around us,
including the world our children live in as well as how we must react
as parents.  There are attitudes today in the adolescent world that
shock and astound me, and as a practitioner I must work within the
current beliefs to help meet not only the goals of the parents but the
goals of the teens as well.  There are new attitudes regarding drugs,
sex, television, and the internet that sometimes flummox parents,
including what the heck their child is thinking or doing, let alone
what it all means.

I work with every kind of parent
imaginable.  From relaxed to lax to protective to over protective to buddies to
dominating.  No matter the parenting style, one of the most important
things is being able to understand what our kids are going through
today.  An adolescents life is not anywhere near where it was 10, 20,
or 30 years ago.  Though each generation is different, and we all had
different experiences than our parents did, knowing the culture of
today is even more important.  It seems that as the technology rapidly
advances with the I-phone’s and Rock Bands of the new day, our children
advance just as quickly.  

The uses of technology is more
interwoven in to our daily lives than it ever has been.  In the past
the technologies have made our daily lives better.  We always needed to
wash clothes, get from one place to another, communicate with each
other, and technology has made these things easier.  But today,
technology is used for fun and entertainment, and even to hurt others.
For example, refusing to allow your child a Facebook or Myspace page is
tantamount to social suicide.   But with that cyber-bullying so extreme
that there are several cases of suicide attached to it. We have two
teenage girls in Australia who updated their Facebook status that they
were in a life threatening situation instead of calling 911.  We have
teens “sexting”
each other.  We have older adolescents e-mailing thank you letters to
potential employers with emoticons in them.  I have heard employers and
colleagues describe  a deplorably short attention span and work ethic,
and a great deal of time spent tweeting, checking the tweets of others,
and updating Facebook status’.  Teachers are teaching through the
internet in the classroom to maintain the focus of their charges, and
employers are required to change the way they supervise, all in
relation to the changing attitudes of the day. 

I had planned
to discuss several of the concepts of parenting today in one post.  But
then as I worked I found that the size of the post quickly grew, and
the topic became increasingly broad.  I realized that I had quite
possibly bit off more than I could easily chew.  Instead I am breaking
down the topic in to several smaller posts.  I plan to include a
discussion of the media (television, radio and video games), sex,
drugs, the internet and social interaction separately.  If you have
additional topics you would like information on, or even additional
information or informative websites regarding topics discussed please
feel free to leave that information in the comments section.  


Common Parenting Mistakes

Parenting comes with many pit-falls.  There is no perfect parent: the one who always knows what to say, what to do, and how to do it. Even other therapists I have worked with have their own parenting horror stories, talking around the lunch table how they have lost it with their kids.    Children, without even knowing it know our triggers, know how to manipulate us, and at times know how to send us over the edge. 

Here I have found a good site with several common parenting mistakes.  Each of these could have its own entry into the blog, and may at some point have one.  The Parent Coach Plan has a good overview with examples of things that make it easy for your child to make poor choices.  This is not by any means a comprehensive list, but it gives a good idea of what not to do with ideas that will make it easier to limit the chances of finding yourself charged with filicide, no matter how justified.